Category Design

SD Standard

How can a designer have a positive impact on the planet? What should designers consider? Should designers be accountable for the emissions they contribute to producing from the products they design? Or should we be held accountable for the human rights we promote? Or fail to support?

The SD Standard is a project I’ve been working on with other colleagues, mostly Valerie Elliott, and Tuuli Sauren. It is a rating system where a designer can self-assess her or his design, and one’s own practices as a designer in terms of social, cultural, environmental and economic impact. This system is focused on communication design projects, such as editorial, graphic, illustration, and web design. While the current system can also be applied to product and environmental design projects, it needs further testing in those categories.

To make this a practical set of tools, our core team is developing focused metrics per design category. A book, for example, carries different environmental factors than a website. While it makes environmental sense to design a durable chair, it makes little sense to design durable packaging for cookies. The current SD Standard encompasses about 60 metrics, which are being fine-tuned and focused, based on the nature of a given project.

You can learn more about this project on the SD Standard website.

Conejo en la Luna – A socially-driven enterprise

Conejo en la Luna is a company that sells artisanal food products, made mostly by women who work in rural parts of Mexico. My work with this project was to design the visual identity, packaging and other communication products for the company.

The brand positions the product with other gourmet products, and communicates the social mission of the company: to bring the products made by small producers to larger markets, where their products can be bought at higher prices. Part of the sales are invested into training programs that ensure the producers comply to quality standards.

Project website: conejoenlaluna.org

Book: Spanish edition of Do Good [Design], by David Berman

Haz el bien diseñando, the Spanish edition of Do Good Design, by David Berman, explores the ethical implications of communication design and the role designers play as accomplices in mass media production. The author has decades promoting social responsibility among design professionals and has been influential in the adoption of web accessibility legislation and ethical rules of conduct for design associations in his native Canada and internationally. In the first part of the book, Berman invites designers to question whether the things they design prompts people to do good things or whether they help craft visual lies and biased messages that incite irresponsible consumption.

In his book, Berman argues that by designing marketing campaigns, ads and packaging, designers play a crucial role in influencing people’s decisions. He presents several examples of posters, ads, found street signage, packaging and billboards from his trips across different continents. These examples act as short visual literacy lessons that shed insights on major brands’ messaging tactics: How children incidentally recognize the cartoon character behind Camel, the famous cigarette brand, more easily than Mickey Mouse; how sex and the female body are used to sell water, magazines, phones, servers and even political campaigns; how Coke is the world’s second most recognized word after OK, among many others.

“We live in a time where it’s easier to leave a more influential legacy popularizing our ideas than spreading our genetic material” — David Berman

The book presents a plethora of examples that demonstrate how communication design can have a big impact. One of the more famous case studies is the design of the US presidential election ballots in 2004 that affected the election results that put President Bush in power. Or how the design of tabulated sheets, designed by Herman Hollerith to compensate for his cognitive deficit, led to the invention of computing and the founding of IBM. Designing for the extremes, or for people with all cognitive or physical levels of dexterity and visual cognition is a strategy that creates better products that function for everyone, explains Berman.

Toward the book’s final pages, several tips and practical advice for designers to “do good” at a strategic level: To consider cultural, social, environmental and financial sustainability at the beginning of each project; to commit to the design profession and join professional associations,  implying these organizations require a minimum ethical commitment from its members, just like doctors and lawyers abide to certain rules of conduct; to donate 10% of our time to worthwhile causes on a volunteer basis.

This well-researched and visually compelling presentation is a thought-provoking call to action for all designers, not only communication designers. The book’s marginalia includes brief case studies of design professionals who are already “doing good” in their own work. Rather than providing answers, the book invites designers to create their own solutions based on their local context.

MIT IDEAS Global Challenge

Since 2012, i’ve had the privilege of volunteering for the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, ran by MIT (Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center), designing the visual identity of this group, plus the program’s award ceremony every year.

The visual identity is composed of various dots that represent the different activities undertaken by students, as they propose innovative solutions to global challenges in agriculture, water, environment, health, mobile, education,  and economic development in countries around the world.